By Deborah Potter, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
LEIPZIG, Germany — St. Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church hasn’t changed much since the 16th century. Bach once played the organ here and the music remains alluring, but it is the church’s more recent history in the last days of the Cold War and its role in the fall of the Berlin Wall that draw tourists today.
The Rev. Christian Fuhrer became the pastor at St. Nikolai in 1980, when the world was divided by the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Germany itself was split in two, most visibly by the wall the East German government — the German Democratic Republic— built in Berlin in 1961 in an attempt to keep its people from fleeing to the West.
In the GDR, atheism was the norm. Churches like St. Nikolai were spied on but allowed to remain open.
“In the GDR, the church provided the only free space,” Fuhrer said in an interview with Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. “Everything that could not be discussed in public could be discussed in church, and in this way the church represented a unique spiritual and physical space in which people were free.”
In the early 1980s, Fuhrer began holding weekly prayers for peace.
Every Monday, worshippers recited the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Few came at first, but attendance grew as the Soviet Union began opening to the West.
The prayer service, Fuhrer said, “was something very special in East Germany. Here a critical mass grew under the roof of the church — young people, Christians and non-Christians, and later, those who wanted to leave (East Germany) joined us and sought refuge here.”
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